Common steps and sub-activities


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, involves the transmission of electrical energy from an external stimulator to the peripheral nervous system via cutaneously placed conductive gel pads. TENS can be subclassified into two variants:

  • low-intensity (1–2 mA), high-frequency (50–100 Hz) TENS; and
  • acupuncture-like high-intensity (15–20 mA), low-frequency (1–5 Hz) or "dense-disperse" TENS.

Transcutaneous nerve stimulation during childbirth is occasionally used for pain control and when applied to the cranium it can have an effect in its own right.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for pain relief in labour - Dowswell T, Bedwell C, Lavender T, Neilson JP; Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group, School of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine, Division of Perinatal and Reproductive Medicine, University of Liverpool , First Floor, Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool, UK


Transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) has been proposed as a means of reducing pain in labour. The TENS unit emits low-voltage electrical impulses which vary in frequency and intensity. During labour, TENS electrodes are generally placed on the lower back, although TENS may be used to stimulate acupuncture points or other parts of the body. The physiological mechanisms whereby TENS relieves pain are uncertain. The TENS unit is frequently operated by women, which may increase sense of control in labour……………..


The search identified 25 studies; we excluded six and included 19 studies including 1671 women. Fifteen examined TENS applied to the back, two to acupuncture points and two to the cranium. Overall, there was little difference in pain ratings between TENS and control groups, although women receiving TENS to acupuncture points were less likely to report severe pain (risk ratio 0.41, 95% confidence interval 0.32 to 0.55). The majority of women using TENS said they would be willing to use it again in a future labour.

PMID: 19370680